Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski



Letter 54

B.C.

New Canaan, Conneticut

18. Feb. 1928

 

 

My Dear Margaret:

 

So many thanks for the letter about the books of Canadian poetry. Importing them is going to be much too slow—and expensive, as you say. I shall have to go look-see; as you say one may be inundated. Just now I am rather terrified[.] I realise again as I did in the American Verse1 how immense is the mass of near poetry and not poetry. Also, how horribly trite the old manner is, the facile outworn modes and metres. In reading over Duncan Campbell Scott2 I was disappointed to find how very much of all his work suffers for want of air. Too literary and old-fashioned. And he needn’t be. When he drops the conventional old-style, and betakes himself to new free rhythms, he is great. For his native taste is exquisite and needs no regular forms to control it. And he has an unquestioned genius for musical and happy turns. Then if you want something fresh and refreshing turn to your own Toronto. I incline to think "Morning in the West" by Katharine Hale3 the most original and best single volume of poetry Canada has turned out,—bar none. Pratt4 is probably equal to her at least, but I don’t know him very well yet.

After the "Canadian Verse"5 comes out, I shall very likely have to go to Texas or Santa Fe [sic] or Tucson—and stay! I have to turn in the job by June, so it will not be a lingering finish. If you send flowers, I should like peonies, they are so flaunting and triumphant. No violets!

I cannot leave yet on any verse-gathering expedition (worse than samphire for a fearful trade)6 for a very simple reason, which you will understand. Meanwhile I have looted the volumes of Roberts,7 Scott, Pickthall8 and a few more with a ruthless zeal. And I am going to see if I can make some of the Toronto publishers loosen up and send me some poets cheap.

I love your picture of the simple and misguided anthologist drowned in a torrent of costly and otherwise not-so-expensive verse unloaded on him through the mail, with bills and customs charges attached!

A hell of a fate for the Villon9 of New Canaan. And that’s a happy title, if you only knew New Canaan!

Send your list and specially help me about Watson’s poems,10 don’t send any books just yet. And don’t waste any time on the job. Stick to your essay.

No I haven’t read Gertrude Atherton11 yet. I gather it is overladen with erudition and local color and antique detail. I smile at your comparison! Maybe you will discover one of my former escapades in incarnation did take place in classic times—Lesbos for choice.12

But to-day in New England is more magical and wondrous beautiful than anything the old world ever turned out. After giving us an almost snowless winter, the Lord of the earth turned to last night and made such a fall of snow such as I have rarely seen—not so much, but so fine and cling-y. This morning the world is white. New Canaan is full of great maples, and Sunshine House13 is almost surrounded on three sides by woods, hardwoods, and now every twig has a load of snow an inch or more deep. And over all the sky is soft gray as white as snow.

 

God love you, dear thing.

 

Carman


  1. The Oxford Book of American Verse. See Letter 44 n.2. [back]

  2. Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947), the Ottawa-born poet, short-story writer, and civil servant who began to write poetry in c. 1890 under the tutelage of Archibald Lampman (see Letter 53 n.2). His first two volumes, The Magic House, and Other Poems (1893) and Labor and the Angel (1898) reflect the influence of Victorian poets, particularly, the Pre-Raphaelites, but in New World Lyrics and Ballads (1905), Via Borealis (1906) and later works his influences broaden to include late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British, American, and European writers. The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott was published in 1926. See Duncan Campbell Scott: a Book of Criticism, ed. S.L. Dragland (1974) and The Duncan Campbell Scott Symposium, ed. K.P. Stich (1980). [back]

  3. Morning in the West: a Book of Verse (1923) by Katherine Hale (see Letter 47 n.5). [back]

  4. Edwin John Pratt (1882-1964), the Newfoundland-born poet who taught at Victoria College, University of Toronto from 1920 to 1953, published his first collection of poetry, Newfoundland Verse, in 1923. Pratt’s Rachel: a Sea-Story of Newfoundland was privately printed in 1917, and, by 1928, he had published three more books: The Witches’ Brew (1925), Titans: Two Poems (1926), and The Iron Door: an Ode (1927). See D.G. Pitt, E.J. Pratt, 2 vols (1984, 1987). [back]

  5. See Letter 51 n.10. [back]

  6. Carman is alluding to Edgar’s description of the cliffs near Dover in Shakespeare’s King Lear IV.vi.14-15:"Halfway down / Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!" [back]

  7. Charles G.D. Roberts (see Letter 41 n.1). [back]

  8. Marjorie Lourie Christie Pickthall (1883-1922), the British-born poet and short-story writer who emigrated to Canada in 1889, returned to England from 1912 to 1920, and, after living briefly on Vancouver Island, died in Vancouver. She was the author of three books of poetry, the third published posthumously: The Drift of Pinions (1913), The Lamp of Poor Souls (1916), and Little Songs (1925). The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall was published in 1925. [back]

  9. See Letter 34 n.5 and Letters 40, 44, 45, and 48. [back]

  10. The poems of Albert Durrant Watson (see Letter 1 n.3). [back]

  11. Gertrude Atherton Franklin (1857-1948), née Horn, was a San Francisco-born novelist and short-story writer who published several works of realistic fiction treating of the history of California, including The Californians (1898), The Splendid Idle Forties (1902), Julia France and Her Times (1912), and Black Oxen (1923). [back]

  12. Carman is probably referring to Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics (1903), which Charles G.D. Roberts describes in his Introduction as an "interpretive reconstruction" of the poetic fragments of Sappho, a woman poet who was born and lived much of her life on the island of Lesbos in the seventh century BC. [back]

  13. See Letter 1 n.1. [back]